Conserving the Mangroves of Sri Lanka

planting mangroves Sri Lanka
Planting mangroves in Sri Lanka as part of Seacoloy's Mangrove Conservation Project. Photo: Seacology.

Mangroves in Sri Lanka improve coastal economic resilience by reducing the impact of climate change and supporting biodiversity. By engaging international organizations such as Seacology and multilateral platforms like BOBLME, Sri Lanka generates awareness about how important mangroves are to coastlines and encourages countries to share best practices for their conservation. Working with the community allows policymakers to incorporate local knowledge and address region-specific concerns. The large range of stakeholders involved in the mangrove conservation process ensures that the relationship between coastal communities and the environment remains symbiotic. 

Importance of Mangroves 

Mangroves and their ecosystems provide significant benefits for Sri Lanka’s coastal welfare. By acting as natural nurseries for marine life, mangroves offset the effects of overfishing. Mangroves also counteract climate change–induced flooding by reducing the height of high waves by up to 66 percent. Last, mangroves sequester 50 times more carbon emissions for a longer period of time when compared to other trees. Anthropogenic factors, however, threaten the natural resilience of mangroves. In the past three decades almost half of Sri Lanka’s mangroves have disappeared because of human activities like deforestation. The loss of mangrove habitat affects native flora and fauna that rely on the trees for survival, which in turn harms local fish production.

Sri Lanka Initiatives 

Sri Lanka contains over 8,800 hectares of mangroves that require protection and conservation. Sudeesa, a nonprofit organization from Sri Lanka, has engaged with Seacology, a nonprofit environmental conservation organization from California, to launch a nationwide mangrove conservation project. The $3.4 million project provides job training and microloans for locals through village-based Community Benefit Organizations. Creating alternative means of income through these economic development opportunities allows locals to actively participate in restoration efforts. The Sudeesa-Seacology partnership also builds on longstanding efforts to educate local communities on the importance of mangroves, including through the creation of a mangrove museum. Adopting a comprehensive approach to mangrove conservation, and eventually restoration, ensures programs have long-term positive effects. 

Regional Initiatives 

Sri Lanka has also pursued regional efforts, notably through its participation in the Bay of Bengal Large Marine Ecosystem (BOBLME) project led by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. In 2018, the project received a $15 million grant from the Global Environment Facility. Mangrove conservation for countries around the Bay of Bengal, including Sri Lanka, ranks high on BOBLME’s agenda. Sri Lanka has also stepped forward to lead the Mangrove Ecosystems and Livelihood Action Group for Commonwealth countries. As part of the program, Sri Lanka led a workshop on mangroves for interested Commonwealth countries to share expertise, create a mangrove database, and build stronger partnerships. The collaborative approach to mangrove conservation increases funding, awareness, and impacts of mangrove conservation programs.  

Wider Ramifications for Coastal Welfare: Maritime Security Index  

The Stable Seas Maritime Security Index provides a metric for measuring maritime progress across 70 countries in Africa and Asia. As its country profile indicates, Sri Lanka scores low in economic resilience. Low rankings in economic security detract from the country’s coastal welfare and standard of living. Without mangroves to counteract the destabilizing effects of climate change and unsustainable resource harvesting, coastal security will continue to suffer. The extensiveness of Sri Lanka’s coastline means the economic status of communities along the seashore holds important implications for the national economy. 

Conclusion 

Mangroves play a crucial role in counteracting the effects of climate change, including erosion and flooding. The mangrove ecosystem also supports the aquatic life that local communities depend upon for sustenance. Sri Lanka has dedicated significant resources towards conservation and restoration projects on both a national and international scale. Engaging with local community groups like Sudeesa and international organizations like BOBLME has created additional funding opportunities and spread global awareness. While Sri Lanka’s fight to protect the mangroves continues, the country's holistic approach to mangrove conservation serves as a working model for similar efforts around the globe.